The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

The Yokich era:
The fruits of “partnership”

Jun 3, 2002

Stephen P. Yokich retires after six years as UAW president. If one word marks his tenure, that word is “partnership.” Under Yokich, the UAW promoted with an unusual degree of frankness its “partnership” helping to make employers profitable, so that benefits would trickle down to the workers. Yokich promoted flexibility in relations with the companies, that is, the willingness to give up on-the-job protections that workers had gained, allowing companies to downsize, lay off, and speed up the work force, supposedly as a way to protect jobs.

One auto analyst said that Yokich’s two main accomplishments were making relations with GM less hostile, and not opposing job cuts at Chrysler. Peter Pestillo, past head of labor relations at Ford, said that Yokich did a superb job of “selling” the need for restructuring (that is, massive layoffs) to local unions.

What have been the fruits of these “partnership” efforts, from the workers’ viewpoint? Another 100,000 UAW jobs disappeared during Yokich’s time, even though his six years were years of economic boom and record profits. And no major “transplant” automaker has been organized. Just last October, Nissan workers in Tennessee voted 2 to 1 against unionizing. Apparently, they did not find appetizing the fruits of the UAW’s “partnership.”

The Yokich legacy may be one for industry to applaud. But workers need a different legacy!